WACO — Saturday was a difficult day for the Belton baseball team without baseball being involved. When it was time to play a game the heavy-hearted Tigers did press on, but victory was not meant to be.
Belton fell to South Grand Prairie 6-4 in the third and deciding game of a Class 5A bi-district series at Baylor Ballpark in which a tragic event from the night before led the team to rally around the player most affected: Jayme Kidder.
Kidder’s step-sister, former Temple softball catcher Kimberlyn Longbotham, died on Friday from injuries suffered in an automobile accident on Airport Road after attending Game 2 of the series in Belton. A moment of silence was held before the game and spectators from both teams gave Kidder a standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second inning.
“I don’t think the game was difficult. I think the day was difficult. I think the game was a good release for everybody,” Belton head coach Eddie Cornblum said. “I can’t speak for the kids. I don’t know what they were feeling inside.”
Belton (20-10) was eliminated by South Grand Prairie (18-15) for the second straight year after the Tigers had won the District 8-5A title. SGP won both three-game series 2-1. SGP will face Flower Mound in the area round.
In terms of the game itself, what hurt Belton (20-10) most was what Cornblum wanted to avoid most of all: falling behind in the first inning like the Tigers did in Game 2 when South Grand Prairie (18-15) scored all three of its runs in a 3-1 decision.
On Saturday, SGP had a four-run first. Julian Vasquez opened the game with a single to center and came home on a Greg Smyers triple to right-center.
“Our worst nightmare is what happened in the first inning,” Cornblum said.
The Tigers regrouped with a two-out rally in the bottom of the first. Walker Winders singled to center and was followed by walks to Chase Cryer and Jared Janczak before Shane Stafford smacked a three-run triple to left-center.
South Grand Prairie extended its lead to 5-3 in the fifth.
Belton got the run back in the bottom of the frame when Coby Potvin doubled to left-center, went to third on a fielding error by SGP center fielder J.T. Jackson and scored on a Winders groundout. The Warriors got a two-run cushion again in the sixth on a two-out RBI single by pinch hitter Zach Peterson.
SGP’s runs turned out to be critical, but it didn’t take away from a strong relief outing from Dustin Tish, who had a de facto quality start. Tish threw 6 1/3 innings, scattering six hits and three walks (one intentional) while striking out six.
“Dustin did a really good job getting strikes over with all three of his pitches,” Cornblum said.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, SGP pitcher Stephen Yancey (5-1) found a groove after the first inning, and after Potvin’s double, the Tigers did not have a hit the rest of the game. Yancey threw 87 pitches for a complete-game victory, allowing three earned runs, five hits and three walks.
Stafford finished 2 for 3. Belton standout center fielder Jared Janczak had two walks in his last game for Belton as SGP avoided throwing the TCU signee a quality pitch to hit after he went 2 for 3 on Friday. Bluford finished 2 for 2 with a double while Vasquez also had two hits.
Emotions were still raw for the Tigers after the game. Kidder went to home plate and released a red balloon while several well-wishers released blue balloons, reflective of the primary color of Longbotham’s uniform when she played for Temple. Kidder then thanked a large group of Belton fans, some of whom were crying and inconsolable.
Cornblum will focus his offseason on figuring out how to get past this recent postseason hump, but the immediate concern for the Tigers is helping their grieving teammate.
“We need to be there for Jayme and do things for him,” Cornblum said. “This is a great team in 2014 and we’ll always look back on the friendships that were made.”